NOTICE: Local news is at stake


The Senate now decides the fate of local news.

As part of the Build Back Better Act, the Senate is considering an important proposal in the coming days: to offer a payroll tax credit to local news outlets to retain or hire local journalists.

Why? Local news is going through a deep crisis. The internet has fundamentally broken the business model of most local newspapers. The number of journalists has fallen by more than half since 2000.

There are at least 1,800 “news deserts” in total – communities without any local newspapers – and thousands more have “ghost newspapers” that have been emptied so much that they barely cover the community.

Professor Penny Abernathy, the leading authority on information deserts, this week projected that if past patterns continue, more than 100 newspapers will close next year and 500 will close in the next five years if Congress does not act.

This has catastrophic consequences. Studies have shown that when local news goes down, communities have more corruption, more waste, lower voting levels and even lower bond ratings. This cripples the community’s ability to solve its own problems.

How can residents know how to fix their schools if no one is providing them with accurate independent information on how their local taxes are being spent?

How can you approach economic development, crime or health care without knowing the facts? Where will people learn specific information about local COVID vaccinations?

The decline in local news has fostered division and polarization. The gaps created are more and more filled by disinformation, national cable news and fake local news sites. The only way to fight disinformation is to have reliable and accurate information.

It’s totally non-partisan, bipartisan problem. Affected communities are disproportionately Republican, but every city suffers when people lack accurate information.

No journalist likes the idea of ​​the government helping them. The crisis has become so existential that temporary measures like this are needed – and this particular provision is cleverly designed to avoid First Amendment problems. It is a tax credit for all these editorial offices which cover local communities; there is no federal bureaucracy handing out grants to local newsrooms the president loves. It is content neutral and would benefit newspapers, TV stations, websites and public radio.

The cost is minimal compared to the rest of the Build Back Better package – less than 0.1% of its total. But this provision is the only thing in the bill that would save democracy.

Please urge your state senators and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to support this non-partisan provision to help save local news.

* * *

Steven Waldman is Chairman of the Rebuild Local News Coalition and Co-Founder and Chairman of Report for America. a national program that helps place journalists in underserved communities and on underserved paces nationwide. In June 2021, the Henrico Citizen became Virginia’s second news organization accepted into the program and hired educational journalist Anna Bryson, a member of the RFA corps.

This column first appeared on the The American Newspaper Site. It is republished here with permission.

Contact Virginia Senator Tim Kaine here.

Contact Virginia Senator Mark Warner here.

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